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Abstract

Although nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is typically associated with obesity, it has also been reported to occur in lean individuals exposed to industrial chemicals. Occupational exposure to vinyl chloride (VC) is a well-documented risk factor for hemangiosarcoma, but has not previously been associated with steatohepatitis. Here we evaluate liver biopsies from 25 nonobese, highly exposed VC workers for steatohepatitis. Next, we evaluate associated metabolic and cytokine abnormalities in affected workers controlled by 26 chemical workers with no to minimal VC exposures, and 11 unexposed, healthy volunteers. Among highly exposed VC workers the prevalence of steatohepatitis was 80%. Of these, 55% had fibrosis and four had hemangiosarcoma. We have coined the term toxicant-associated steatohepatitis (TASH) to describe this condition, which was not explained by obesity or alcohol. Although mean serum transaminases were normal in TASH, total cytokeratin 18, but not the caspase-cleaved fragment, was elevated. Despite the absence of obesity, workers with TASH had insulin resistance with reduced adiponectin levels. TASH was also associated with markedly elevated serum tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukins 1β, 6, and 8. Serum antioxidant activity was reduced in TASH. Conclusion: TASH occurred frequently in these nonobese VC workers with high cumulative exposures and normal liver enzymes. Elevated total cytokeratin 18 suggested the presence of necrotic cell death in TASH and may be a useful serologic biomarker. TASH was further characterized by insulin resistance, elevated proinflammatory cytokines, and impaired antioxidant defenses. The threshold VC exposure and the role of other chemical agents in TASH are as yet unknown. (HEPATOLOGY 2009.)